By Steve Laing
I’ve greatly enjoyed some of the discussions on The AIMN over the last few weeks, although like many, I get a little disappointed when it gets personal, a little sarky, and then a little nasty. However, that’s how families argue, and I’d rather have the argument than live in a bubble of avoiding the topic.
In Scotland we argued constantly about politics. When I moved to England, it just wasn’t the done thing. Not the subject for polite discussion. I guess that is reflected in the politics of those countries too. In Scotland people voted for the party that best reflected their beliefs and values because we’d worked out what they were, in England I always suspected that people voted for the party most appropriate to their status (whether real or perceived) because they hadn’t really talked about or understood it. If you don’t argue about politics, you don’t really understand it. This is generally, I believe, why conservatives get elected.
The other thing that is important to understand about me is that by degree (though not by career), I’m an applied biological scientist. I come to conclusions based on observation, evidence and facts. But I’m also very interested in evolution, and how it impacts on humans, the way they think, and the way they act.
One of the things humans like to do is categorise things. We like to stick things in boxes. Nice, neat, tidy boxes. It is, no doubt, a survival mechanism, helping us categorize the world we inhabit and thus avoid future danger. But we do it for so many things, including people. You’re a leftard, you’re a fascist, you are a tree-hugging Greeny; and here on The AIMN, apparently you are either a collectivist or an individual (though I suspect some people would prefer to use a word coined by Scott Adams in his Dilbert cartoons, an “inDUHvidual”).
The problem with this behavior, however, is that it can be very constricting, and given that no longer need to be so entirely focused on survival anymore, not particularly useful. Humans by their nature are individuals and collectivists. There are a few exceptions – I’m aware that some who are severely autistic are unable to relate to anyone else, effectively trapped inside their individuality. But by and large, we display both traits.
Even the most ardent libertarian, anti-marxist behaves as a true socialist when it comes to child rearing, where from each according to his ability (the parent) will give to each according to his need (the child), though I’m sure there are a few who would love to send their kids up chimneys if they could.
Similarly whilst most of the great thinkers, philosophers and scientists may have developed their idea collectively, the first spark was undoubtedly an individual effort. And whilst music is an art best practiced in union, composing is largely a singular discipline.
Finally I consider myself highly privileged to be the father of two beautiful and intelligent identical twin daughters. Genetically they could not be more collective, but to even suggest they weren’t individuals would be more than my life is worth (though as a team they can be frightening!)
We are one, but we are many. You know how it goes, and it is absolutely true. As a species humans use both individual and collective strategies to survive. We aren’t true collectivists like ants or bees, we aren’t true individualists like adult polar bears or tigers. Our civilization is a testament to our ability to thrive using both traits, allowing both individual and collective effort, more concerned with the outcome than the process. Whether Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia or Sydney’s Opera House, both are the result of individual thought, and collective action.
The problem is balance. Whilst left wing collectivists rail against libertarian individuals, they often conveniently ignore that fascism is a collectivist ideology. Subsuming individual thought into mob rule can quickly become dangerous and easy to subvert, whether in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or potentially Hansonist Australia. Hopefully it will never get to this point, but with apparently 50% supporting One Nation’s views on Muslims, we are very clearly close to an extremely dangerous tipping point. We clearly don’t need an awful lot of prompting to be made to believe that all Muslim’s are terrorists. I used to wonder how Hitler got away with his treatment of Jews, how he subverted the minds of a nation. I no longer wonder. It frighteningly appears all too easy.
On single issues, collectivism can clearly be a very effective thing – organizations like GetUp appear to be worrying the current government more than the ALP. If we could but encourage politicians to overrule their political collectivism, and become single-issue collectivists, we’d have marriage equality in the bag. I’d like to think without the standover tactics, we’d also have a federal ICAC, a banking Royal Commission, and lots, lots more. It is ideally what I’d like to see our parliament become. Imagine how interesting debates might become when politicians weren’t tied down to the same, dull, party line. Trying to persuade people using rational argument rather than simply tired cliché “yeah, but the other mob done worse”. Moreover I’m not buying into that “we are a broad church” bullshit from the LNP either. If any politicians cross the floor, we know there will be repercussions.
Party based collectivism is ruining politics. It is stifling debate, it is preventing ideas, it is stopping progress. Somehow we need to find ways to let a bit more individualism back into the political system, before it is too late.
Steve Laing – Steve is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such. Steve also has his own blog: www.makeourvoiceheard.com.